Category Archives: Year of the Dolphin

The Elusive Humpback

I was sitting outside the cottage discussing the different types of hornbills found in Kenya, as a Trumpeter Hornbill had just flown over head, when Sergi (the marine officer of expedition 094) pulled me aside to talk about my independent project. I was secretly chuffed that I got given the one I did, as there was a choice of three. The title of my project was “Data Analysis of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins (Sousa chinesis) collected by GVI Kenya Marine Team from 2006-2009.”
 HBD sightings

These animals are very shy animals and are not as well known as the bottlenose dolphins. Maybe because they are shy or perhaps because of their habitat distribution, there is very little data available. So this was a great opportunity to be able to provide some information. The GVI Marine Team has been collecting data on them since 2006. Whilst out on the boat on a survey day, if we have a spotting we follow them around, taking photos and also monitor their behaviour. Using a GPS (Global Positioning System) we are able to plot the route taken by the dolphins that day.  This allows us to see the areas where the humpbacks dolphins feed, rest, socialise, breed etc. As well as being able to gain data on group sizes and composition.

 So I went forth and did some research on our friends the humpbacks and also plotted the information on our study area (see picture) which is the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve and the surrounding area.
 Humpback dolphins occur in small groups (3-7) and are distributed throughout Indian and Western Pacific oceans as well as the coast of south east Africa. Inhabiting tropical and subtropical waters (15oC – 20oC), they prefer coasts with mangroves, rocky reefs, estuaries and lagoons. Typically found in waters less than 20m depth, they only venture a few miles from the shore line (as shown on the map), and occasionally they swim up rivers. The distinctive hump on their dorsal fin gives rise to their name; and they are medium sized 2.5m – 2.8m.

boat trWasini channel and the surrounding waters are prone to quite a lot of boat traffic and fishing. Humpbacks tend to avoid boats, although marks caused by propellers have been observed. This is a concern not only because of the damaged caused to the dolphin but also because of the resultant change in their behaviour, e.g. leaving the area. Another concern is that being situated on the coast; the communities living here depend upon fishing as a resource. Recent efforts have been made to educate some of the local community as to the importance and implications of over-fishing and pollutants.

 HBD spyhopping

It is my aim to develop a catalogue of the humpback dolphins, as this will allow us to determine population numbers and residency rates in this region. This is a technique called mark-recapture, and it uses the dorsal fins to identify each individual, mostly from the notches made by other dolphin or boats, but also by the shape, colour and size of the fins. Plus, on the cheeky side I will get to name some of them!

Sarah Watson was a conservation intern on 094 Expedition, and is currently doing her work placement with GVI, as staff member on the Marine and Terrestrial Programmes

Mkwiro Dolphin Club Reaches Standard 5

2007 was designated the ‘International Year of the Dolphin’ by UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and GVI Kenya spent the year working closely with Mkwiro Primary School on education and activities that supported awareness of dolphin conservation. So successful was the year, which included the introduction of the dolphin-watching code of conduct by Kenya Wildlife Service, that CMS extended it in to 2008.  Halfway through 2008, ‘Dolphin Clubs’ were launched in 10 local schools in an effort to ensure that the achievements of the initiative continued beyond the two years and resulted in something more long-term. The clubs were supported with a donation by CMS of 10,000 KSh to each one to ensure that awareness and conservation activities could be undertaken. 

It was a fantastic idea, but sadly fell in to the trap they hoped to avoid… with no follow up or support from the 2008 stakeholders, the schools didn’t quite know what to do with their clubs. When GVI Kenya got back up and running we found the Mkwiro Dolphin Club with it’s student members at something of an impasse, and so in collaboration with the school and its teachers we have adopted Mkwiro’s Dolphin Club.  The next obstacle we came across was something of a misconception amongst the student members of the club… although just primary school children they had developed an acute sense of financial awareness, more so than environmental awareness unfortunately. It seems that the children in the club thought they were entitled to a cut of the 10,000 KSh!  So we decided to take it back to basics and seek out the children that want to actively participate in environmental learning and action, rather than those ‘in it for the money’. We have been hosting the dolphin club on Tuesdays afternoons, in their 3.10 to 4.10 clubs and societies schedule, aiming to work our way through all of the students from standard 8 to 4, giving them a taste of what the club is about, before opening up ‘full-time membership’ to the wannabe dolphin eco-warriors! 

Having worked our way through standards 8, 7 and 6 with treasure hunts at our land-based dolphin research site and turtle lessons in the school, this week we took on standard 5 for an hour, with an ambitious concept – water cycles, mangroves, deforestation and the impact of increased sedimentation on near-shore coral reefs and the animals that depend on them, such as fish and in our specific case the humpback dolphins that favour the reefs fringing Shimoni’s coastal forest as a feeding ground.


It sounds like a lot of information eh? Well, we started with a warmer game, provisionally called ‘monkey’ and a bit like musical chairs… the children race to ‘climb in to a tree’ (a sack on the ground!) and whoever can’t find space is out. Each round, a tree is ‘cut down’ until at the end we were left with just two ‘monkeys’ remaining – a simple but effective introduction to deforestation we thought! The kids loved it, shoving each other out of the ‘trees’ to stay in the game. Then they rotated around three educational activities – a water cycle jigsaw that they had to arrange in order; a ‘true or false’ mangrove facts game that got them running from true to false depending on whether they believed our ‘facts’; and a simple science experiment pouring ‘rain’ on to bowls of ‘forested’ and ‘deforested’ earth to watch the difference in the water quality running down the ‘rivers’ and in to the ‘sea’.

The session ended with our water cycle obstacle course, as teams ran relays with cups of water, zig-zagging along our winding ‘river’, ducking underneath our ‘ocean waves’ and jumping from ‘cloud to cloud’ to fill up a jug at the end. As we predicted it soon descended in to mayhem but it was hilarious to watch for both us and the children. Another successful introduction to dolphin club, or as the Tuesday afternoon chant goes… “dol-fin ki-la-bu, dol-fin ki-la-bu…”

Dolphin Education Comes To Majoreni


Above: Majoreni Primary School children demonstrate their new knowledge of the dolphin species found along their coast 

When Kenya Wildlife Service took their Year of the Dolphin education to Majoreni Primary School, it really was something special for the children of this out-of-the-way coastal village. Very much off-the-beaten-track, this was the first time they had played host to Kenya Wildlife Service and had environmental education brought to them, their first opportunity to learn about dolphins and with the aid of DVDs and a computer screen, the first time that many of them had even seen a dolphin!


Above: The children cram in to the classroom and gather at the window to watch a film of dolphins and other marine wildlife 

The KWS team of Rachel and Emanuel, the Tourism Officer, taught the children about the four species of dolphin we know to inhabit this part of the East African coast, their basic anatomy and biology – most of them assumed that dolphins were fish, so it was something of a surprise to learn dolphins had more in common with people!


Above: The enthusiastic children learning their way around a dolphin

The teachers were equally enthusiastic and full of praise for the KWS education team and Year of the Dolphin, sponsored by tour operators TUI and Pollmans, expressing their gratitude for coming there to teach their children. Although a long and tiring day, for Rachel it was a highlight of her week, and exceptionally satisfying for her to contribute knowledge to a community so eager to learn.


Above: Rachel and Emanuel had to take their class outside, the classrooms not being big enough to take all the children that the school wanted them to teach

Teaching Food Webs in Wasini


Above: Wasini village 

You’ll have seen in my recent blogs the wonderful Year of the Dolphin events held in Shimoni and Majoreni over the weekend, where the stars of the shows were undoubtedly the children from some of our local schools who used songs, poems and drama to convey important messages about dolphins and marine conservation to their villages.  


Above: Wasini’s school children in anticipation of their visiting teachers 

But this was only possible thanks to the groundwork undertaken by the Kenya Wildlife Service team in Shimoni, under the direction of our warden, Yussuf. In the preceeding weeks their team, including Rachel, GVI’s very own former Marine Science Officer and Expedition Manager, and Jillo with the KWS research department, travelled to local schools to educate the children about their dolphins and marine ecology. 


Above: The children get to thinking about how their marine life is interlinked 

First stop was Wasini, to teach about food webs, not only in the classroom, but outside where they attempted to make their very own food web. For this island village that is almost entirely dependent on fishing and the flow of tourists attracted by the many dolphins and beautiful coral reefs, it is invaluable for them to understand how all the marine life, from mangrove trees to humpback whales, are interlinked and dependent on responsible management of natural resources the whole way along the chain. 


Above: The children start stringing together their own food web